Gene and the kids slept and slept and slept. It seemed like it, anyway... Kaylin opened her birthday presents and we FINALLY headed out around 10am. Wow. South Dakota is a looong state! It seemed like we drove forever and the vast majority of the scenery was softly rolling grassy hills. Sometimes you could look for miles without seeing a tree. We stopped at the Corn Palace and laughed that an entire town was built around something so silly. We drove to the point everyone was snippy and on the verge of losing our minds when BAM! The Badlands!
To say we were impressed would be an understatement! The scenery went from grass to endless "canyons" in two seconds. The kids were thrilled they were allowed to climb on the hills. I think we stopped at every pull-off with a parking area and also at some areas that just looked fun. We climbed, took in the scenery and watched animals. We stopped at the Visitor Center and got lots of water. Every once in a while a bird would appear and make it on my year list.
My biggest bird goal for the trip was to see burrowing owls. They like to hang out in prairie dog towns and use abandoned burrows. I scanned and scanned prairie dog towns with no luck. They were just too far away! Then we happened upon a prairie dog town that had a dirt road we could pull off on. We drove back among the prairie dogs and suddenly a cute little owl was standing right in front of us! We didn't even need binoculars to see its yellow eyes. And then we saw another. And another. And one more! Four burrowing owls in one relatively small area! I haven't looked it up yet to know if they actually live that close together or if this was a family group and the owlets hadn't dispersed yet. I do know it was awesome and that Gene and the kids were almost as excited as I was.
We were all starving, so made our way into the town of Wall and found our most ridiculous hotel room yet before eating dinner at Wall Drug. I had been looking forward to Wall Drug and it did not dissapoint! What a crazy place! Kaylin loved the rock and candy shops. Logan found a South Dakota toy license plate for his collection and got soaking wet at the interactive fountain. Gene and I got our picture taken on a giant jackalope and in front of the fake Mount Rushmore. We all had a good time. We then headed back to our Awesome 80s suite at the Econolodge.
There were 3 rooms left when I checked in. A smoking room with 2 queen beds, an upper level suite and the Basement Suite that was substantially cheaper than the upper level one. I chose the Basement Suite. The front desk woman looked concerned and asked if I'd like to see it first? Hmmm, I have NEVER been offered to look at a hotel room before renting it. Especially not in a "cheap" chain. This room must be SPECIAL. I WANT IT! Sight unseen. Let's just say I wasn't disappointed and that if it wasn't such a long drive to the other places we want to see, I'd rent this suite a second night. We swiped our room card at the back of a stairway as directed and then had to descend a long flight of stairs into the basement. Our room was at the end of a small hallway. We opened the door to a huge living/dining area with a hide-a-bed sofa, four chairs, tv, kitchen area with counter space and sink, dining table for 4, a good-sized bathroom and two large bedrooms, each with a queen size bed, a desk and a large closet. The decor is straight out of the 80s and I love it. The front desk woman was completely relieved that I got a AAA discount, but she couldn't have rented this room to more appreciative people. Best. Room. Ever. And the hotel even has a pool and free breakfast.
Well, it's light so I'm getting dressed and heading back to Badlands to bird for a bit while everyone else sleeps. Then we're heading on to Mt. Rushmore. So far, so good!